Prioritize plants for better sex after prostate cancer

By Katie Robinson | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published April 26, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A large prospective study found that following a plant-based diet improved the quality of life in individuals with prostate cancer.

  • Participants who ate the most plants experienced better sexual function and urinary health than those who ate the least plants, regardless of demographic and lifestyle factors or comorbidities.

  • Those who ate the most plants also benefited from improved hormonal health.

Consuming a plant-based diet improved the quality of life for individuals with prostate cancer, including better sexual function and urinary health, according to a study published in Cancer.[] Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the analysis included more than 3,500 participants.

According to a press release from NYU Langone Health, the findings offer hope for patients hoping to improve their quality of life after prostate cancer treatment—especially as it pertains to sexual health.[]

Earlier, a systematic review by the same research group had found that eating a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.[] Now, in their latest study, the researchers examined the impact of a plant-based diet on the quality of life among participants with prostate cancer.

Large prospective cohort study

The 3,505 individuals in the prospective cohort study had nonmetastatic prostate cancer (median age at diagnosis, 68 years). All were participants in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986–2016), an ongoing project designed to better understand how nutrition affects risks related to serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.[] Of the treatments that the participants had received, 48% had undergone radical prostatectomy, and 35% had received primary radiation therapy.

The participants completed a survey every 4 years on the types and proportions of foods they ate, while a second questionnaire, completed every 2 years, assessed quality of life with regard to sexual functioning, urinary irritation/obstruction and incontinence, bowel functioning, energy and mood, and other health concerns.

The Expanded Prostate Cancer Index Composite (EPIC) was used to calculate quality-of-life scores. The researchers adjusted the results for demographics, oncologic history, comorbidities, body mass index, calorie intake, and health-related behaviors.

The participants completed the first quality-of-life questionnaire around 7 years after their prostate cancer diagnosis and/or treatment. For the data analysis, they were divided into five groups based on the proportion of plant vs animal foods consumed.

Compared with the group that ate the least plants, those that ate the most plants scored 8% to 11% better in measures of sexual function and up to 14% better in scores of urinary health, with less incontinence, obstruction, and irritation.

Additionally, participants who ate the most plants experienced up to 13% better scores in hormonal health, which assessed symptoms such as low energy and depression.

A plant-based diet was also associated with better bowel function, which was suggested to be related to intake of plant dietary fiber.

Challenging the misconception

As the participants were mostly White healthcare professionals, the investigators are planning to expand their research to be more inclusive and to study those with more advanced stages of prostate cancer.

Still, the study is the first of its kind to show better urinary health based on nutrition in patients with prostate cancer.

“These results add to the long list of health and environmental benefits of eating more plants and fewer animal products,” the authors said. “They also clearly challenge the historical misconception that eating meat boosts sexual function in men, when in fact the opposite seems to be the case.”

What this means for you

Recommending a plant-based diet to your patients with prostate cancer may help lessen their side effects, such as erectile dysfunction or urinary incontinence. Men with this disease may also benefit from improved hormonal health, which may reduce symptoms of depression and low energy.

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